Daily Prompt: Punishment…or Rehabilitation?

“…you are hereby summoned to appear for jury duty at 8:00 a.m….” Crap. The day before I am to leave for a month-long trip to Alaska, I get hit with this.

“Just ignore it,” my husband tells me. The courts do not send summons by registered mail so if someone gets back to you, just tell them you never received the letter.” Yes, thats true. But I’m thinking I can convince the judge that I’m out of here and he/she won’t want to mess with me.

The morning of jury duty, I am armed with several books and the paperwork stating that we have paid thousands of dollars to leave Harris County the next day. The judge asks people if anyone has any reason why they cannot serve. I walk up and stand in a VERY LONG line to discuss my situation. The judge listens to me and is very uninterested. First World problems. “You probably will not be on a jury. Go sit down and wait for your name to be called.”

Hours later and a book or two finished while sitting in uncomfortable, hard pews made by Texas inmates–I have been to a prison facility where furniture for municipal buildings all across the state are churned out–I am one of 24 jurors called. Crap. My husband was right; I should have ignored the summons.

All 24 of us walk into a courtroom. We are both male and female and a combination of different nationalities and skin tone. That’s Houston for you–nothing if not diverse. The person next to me doesn’t want to serve either. “What do we do,” she asks me. “I don’t know; wait and watch what happens,” is the only unusable piece of advice I can come up with.

Our defendant walks in. He is a man of color, a multiple offender who knows the inside of the Harris County Jail like most of us know the back of our hands. He’s accused of theft from his employer, who sits opposite him. The accuser, you can tell, is of immigrant descent and an obviously hard worker. While the defendant wears prison orange, the employer is in jeans and a tee shirt, mad as hell and pissed off that this recalcitrant former employee has made life difficult for him one too many times. He’s trying to run an honest business and is going to make this guy pay.

Both lawyers spell out the situation for us. The defendant is a repeat offender. He’s been caught on numerous surveillance devices, redhanded. The defendant’s lawyer, a short, stubby man, obviously way down the list from the public defender’s office in an ill-fitted suit, gives us the 411. The defendant was set up. He is the victim. Then the public defender begins questioning all of us.

“What is prison? Punishment or rehabilitation?” It only takes a few moments for me to realize who the lawyers want on the jury. Those who answer “punishment” are immediately written off by the public defender. Those who answer “rehabilitation” get their jury number written down.

I whisper to my neighbor, “say punishment, and you won’t get called to sit.” The light bulb goes off above her head. I’m going to Alaska. The thief is going to the Harris County Jail for rehabilitation.

Punishment.

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